Peer Coaching in Higher Education

As I was looking for books on mentoring programs in libraries, I stumbled across Peer Coaching in Higher Education, which provided case studies from universities around the country that engage in formal coaching programs for their instructors.  The examples in the book follow one of two processes, either a long term, three stage process, or a short term, five step process.  Both focus on empowerment, rather than evaluation.  The idea of coaching is to help the other person improve, not to merely evaluate and say what was done well, or done poorly.

None of these examples included library instruction, which has shares many similarities, but can also be more difficult to evaluate.   Most library instruction sessions are single classes only – the librarian sees the class once, and then never again as a whole group.  The librarian may be meeting with individual students for consultations and aid with research, but the majority of librarians see a class one time during the semester, and that’s it.  Even though there were no library examples in the book, I think these methods could be very easily adapted to the library world.  VCUL doesn’t have an evaluation/observation/coaching program for librarians right now, and I really think it should.  We, and our students, can only benefit from such a process.

The long term program follows three stages, and the idea is to build a trusting relationship.

Stage 1:  Observation Only

Stage 2: Observation with notes.  The notes only provide a summary of what was done, no suggestions for improvement.  No judgement should be involved here.  The notes should be reviewed before being handed over to the instructor being observed, to remove any judgments, whether they are positive or negative.  Simply, just the facts.

Stage 3:  Observation with notes and suggestions.  These notes still should focus on solutions, not reprimands or accusations.  Instead of, “You went over this section too fast,” the suggestion should be, “If you slow down during this section, and go into more detail here, your students might grasp the concept a little better.”

The short term, five step process.

  1. Request visit
    1. Request something specific.  For example, the instructor’s questioning technique and the student’s reactions to questions.  The observer writes down the questions asked by the instructor, the first response, the instruction’s reaction to that response, and how the instructor moves forward.
  2. The visit
    1. Does not need to be an entire class period.  Perhaps only a 20 minute section.
  3. Reflect alone
    1. The observer cleans up notes, removes judgments and evaluations.
    2. Observer creates three leading questions.  Example:  What does this student’s response tell you about what your students learned?
      1. Avoid “Why?”
  4. Reflect together
    1. Review notes from observer
    2. Observer asks the questions
    3. Brainstorm for future classes
  5. Debrief
    1. Analysis of Step 4.
    2. Who talked the most; why?
    3. Were there any judgments or evaluations?  How could they have been avoided?
    4. Did we talk about feelings, or the facts?
    5. Was the feedback specific?
    6. Did the observer become too directive, rather than suggestive?
    7. Will this process lead to improvement?


The short term, five step process can even be incorporated into the long-term process.  I think it would help create clearer guidelines to help each party really know what is expected of them.  The five step process works with just a single observation session, but it could really be helpful for both Stage 2 and Stage 3 of the long term process.

One of the institutions adopted this process inter-departmentally.  Instead of professors in the same department working together, professors from different departments, and usually altogether different disciplines, worked together to coach each other.  This really helped to keep the focus on pedagogy and methodology, rather than course content.  And both parties could get completely new perspectives on teaching.  While this would be more difficult to do in the library, it may be an idea to consider – get librarians who do not have teaching responsibilities to take a look at what’s going on in the library classrooms.  Who knows what new ideas could come out of it!


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